Former Walla Walla resident Heidi Brock began her new job on Sept. 16. Now the new president and CEO of the American Forest & Paper Association — the trade association which represents the paper and wood products industry in the U.S. — Brock visited friends in the area last month.

“When I came back to Walla Walla I had the opportunity to tour the Wallula paper mill. I wanted that to be the first mill I visited,” she said.

“It’s the mill we’d always driven by as a child. I had seen this mill so many times. I was so excited to tour it. In the last couple of years there’s been a tremendous amount of capital put into it ... It’s a great sustainable manufacturing story, and they make terrific products. It was a rewarding visit.”

Brock’s role is in an industry vital to the state and national economy, employing almost 30,000 working in 149 manufacturing facilities in the state.

She grew up here, attended Prospect Point Elementary, Garrison Junior High and graduated from Walla Walla High School in 1981.

She attended University of Puget Sound for her undergraduate degree. She worked for U.S. Sen. Dan Evans, R-Wash.

After that, Brock spent years as a senior executive for Weyerhaeuser, one of the paper and wood products industry’s largest companies.

She worked eight more years running the Aluminum Association before coming back to wood and paper.

“My role and responsibility is to work closely with the board on strategy for the Association, set policy priorities and positions. It’s exciting work to advance sustainability. We have the Better Practices, Better Planet 2020, the most advanced sustainability leadership program.

“They are updating the program since 2020 is almost here, working on a 2030 plan.”

Brock and the association’s board are working to continue and advance the industry’s excellence.

Though her move from Walla Walla (small town) to Olympia to the Washington, D.C., areas (larger cities) might have been daunting but she was ready. “I found a lot of excitement,” she said.

In earlier years, Brock began work in a mail room. “I had a connection with paper at the beginning of my career,” she said.

As a legal assistant to Evans, she worked with people interested in natural resources and sustainability.

“I liked the people,” she said. Brock also respected the cycle of growing trees, making products, the growth, renewal, replant, reuse.

Her career has also brought some perspective on diversity since the industry has traditionally been led by men. “The good news is there’s a lot more women in the industry now,” she said.

“Early on, in many meetings, I was the only woman. There are a lot more women in leadership. We still have progress to be made but there are more women in leadership positions,” she said.

According to Brock, the industry is welcoming all voices, such as women looking for a meaningful career manufacturing sustainability.

“I spent 18 years at Weyerhauser. When they acquired a number of companies, the decision was made to close the Washington office, which prompted the job transition. As I look back now, I’m grateful.

“I feel very honored and humbled to be back in the industry,” she said.

Karlene Ponti can be reached at karleneponti@wwub.com or 509-526-8324.

Karlene Ponti began as Special Publications Writer in 1999, work includes Lifestyles, The Weekly and Business Monthly. After Wa-Hi, Ponti attended Whitman and is a UW graduate. Later she was ordained a Christian minister at CDM Spiritual Teaching Center.